I’ve lived half a lifetime trying to get out of social distancing, and now I’m back at it again. “I tried to get out,” Michael Corleone says, “but they pull me back in!” Throughout my teens and twenties, I had few friends and no romantic interests. I could get along with and work with co-workers and classmates, and I could even manage a few phone friends, but for the most part, I’ve spent a lot of time feeling alone and with no one to talk to. Like Kate Moss was the definitive model of Calvin Kline when Calvins were cool, I was the definitive model for social distancing when ‘cool’ and ‘social distancing’ weren’t even in the same sentence.
In middle school, I thought high school would be like the Saturday morning TV show, Saved by the Bell. I thought that I’d have a cool group of friends, and we’d get into adventures. Any American sit-com was my oracle on countless aspects of life, but this particular high school fantasy wrapped itself around my mind like nothing else. Every year, I thought I’d finally be cool, I’d finally reach Zack Morris level of infamy and coolness. I would try to make friends and sometimes we’d hang out. I even tried to get a girlfriend by giving her flowers, but by senior year I was sitting at the lunch table by myself, reading books and writing screenplays by hand. If they weren’t going to love me in high school, they were going to see my movies in a few years.
Not much changed after high school. I met people at community college and got along with everyone at the 4-year college that I attended, but I never got into a clique. I was never really comfortable with that. I thought that only through a group of friends could life have purpose. I dropped out of college by the second year. If they weren’t going to love me in college, they were going to love me somewhere else. Somehow.
For the next decade, I built myself up. I went to karaoke at least twice a week, I wrote poetry just to perform it at open mic, and I found a friend or two that I got close to. By my 30s, I started to talk to therapists and soon I started a real dating life with real relationships, not just a patchwork of dates and phone conversations. Over those years, I kept writing and experimenting with writing. I began practicing meditation. By my late 30s, I felt just as confident about myself as a person as I felt as a writer. “I am not weird and never have been,” I could finally tell myself. And it felt good.
I think about why it was like that all those years ago. Was I really just an introvert that was afflicted with shyness? Was it just the cliquey nature of Lehigh Valley Pennsylvanians? Was I just too nice in a world where that’s looked down upon? It’s probably a mixture of everything, but I’m grateful for it. I have inner emotional resources that many do not have.
I told myself that I could handle this, that I could be isolated as long as this goes on, that I could dip my toes inside my old self while maintaining my newer, happier self. After a few days of this shut it, things got funny. I needed to talk to someone, even if it was just small talk. I’m not alone in my home. I have people to talk to. I even have people that I can call and talk to here and there. But it’s not the same. It’s not the same as my job, working with kids that say ‘hello’ to me in the halls. It’s not the same as attending my writer’s group and sharing ideas. It’s not the same as going to an open mic and reading what I’ve put my heart into. I tried to get out, but they pulled me back in.
I feel that things will get interesting these next few weeks. There’s so much more that I want to say about my predictions and deeper thoughts that I have. I’ll save that for later. I just want to say that I hope this makes us appreciate each other more. We need to start valuing human life more than “likes”. Relationships are and always have been the only real currency that matters.
Good luck, World. Rich or poor, many of us are now in the same boat. And it’s that thought that reminds me that I’m not alone as I was all those years ago.
My performance of The Straggler. Feedback and comments are welcome.
Comments and feedback are welcome.
Letter to the Like-Minded Souls
by Marc Alexander Valle
Dear Like-Minded Soul,
Perception is a wave, threatening to crush the shores of anything and everything you feel inside and think you know.
I’m talking about their perception. And yours and mine. But mostly theirs. The people are scared. They’re uncomfortable, and it will not be accepted.
The advice, the suggestions, the offhand comments, the superstitions, the hungry mob, the fanatical religion, the authoritarian government, your parents, wanting you to be a doctor or lawyer or x-ray technician.
How can we ever just be when the belief that “we just are who we are” is a landlocked sea with dozens of tributaries?
The salty, the fresh, the toxic, the mother, the friend, the father, the sister, the brother, the pastor, the teacher, the teammate, the lover.
Was there ever a place?
We built forts of pillows to fight them off, didn’t we?
And we flew off into space, didn’t we?
I’m at an age where I’m halfway there, the day that I don’t care what anyone thinks and how they see me, and I think to myself that when I get there it’ll be okay, Shangri-la, high above the waves.
But why so long?
Why so close to the end, if in fact there is a mountain sanctuary?
The people are uncomfortable. And they’re comfortable with their discomfort. And it rattles me.
There’s nothing to do but to step forward and find
your family, your people, the dreamers, your kind.
And hold on as long as you can. But never too tight.
The hungry mob were once dreamers too.
Feedback and comments are welcome.
by Marc Alexander Valle
One of the earliest memories I have of my mother is her teaching me how to spell words.
She would draw the stick figure picture and write the word beneath it.
I asked her multiple times to run this lesson for me.
My mother didn’t have a diploma, but she somehow knew the value of stimulating the visual cortex.
It didn’t raise my verbal IQ by much.
I was a decent student in mid-level classes, and I scored below average on my SATs.
I don’t know what it did to benefit my education.
I just know that if you asked me to choose between my sight or my hearing, I’d probably have to give up music.
Then there’s the story of the mother, who lifted a truck to rescue her son.
I don’t believe she did it, but I believe that she tried.
Please, I welcome FEEDBACK. Feel free to comment.
First published in Potato Soup Journal on October 20, 2019
Daybreak on the Banshee
by Marc Alexander Valle
The women cried and wailed and prayed behind us, and my 7-year-old mind thought the dead body would look like something from the movies. I never saw a dead body before, and I was certain that it would look like a skeleton from a cartoon or at least Freddy Kruger. It would definitely be something that comes out only at night.
I stepped forward with my father and older brother towards the casket. All the conversation and noise in the room became silent inside of my head. I could only hear my thoughts, and all I could think was that I had to let dad step forward first and to be careful.
The toy soldier in my pocket poked into my thigh, and I readjusted it.
“What’s wrong?” my father said.
I looked up at him. “Nothing.”
I peered into the casket, and took in a deep breath.
It was my adult cousin, the one who lived down the street. No skeleton or wounds or blood or winkled skin. Just my cousin. It reminded me of a wax figure. My cousin. Then the silence fell to the back, and I could hear the wailing and the prayers of the woman once more.
“That’s it?” I said to my dad.
“Yeah,” he said. “Quiet.”
I felt compelled to go into my pocket and leave my cousin the toy soldier amongst all the flowers. I didn’t dare.
Death had only been a concept to me. Outside of television and movies, I only had urban legends. There was the time they found a dead body down at the end of the street in tall weeds. My older friend, Vic, said that it was done by a serial killer, who broke free from the Allentown State Hospital. He said that the escapee planned on killing all of the adults and torturing the children to exact some form of revenge. Despite my father’s assurance against this claim, I feared a man was roaming the streets with a gun that night. I couldn’t sleep. They ruled it suicide the next day, and I was relieved.
There was the story of the boy, who drowned in the Lehigh River next to Bucky Boyle Park. They said he swam too close to the whirlpool that swirled in the center, and he couldn’t swim back. For that reason, they told us kids to not even so much as step into the water.
Then there was the story of the boy, who fell out of a window in our former Brooklyn apartment complex. They said his ghost haunted the court yard. I had nightmares about him until we moved.
The wailing and the prayers grew even louder, and it began to make me sick to my stomach. I had enough of looking and standing still.
I looked back up to my father.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said.
“Quiet,” he said, then took my hand and we walked away.
Back in the car and on our way home, my father reminded me and my brother that although our cousin was dead in the physical form, he was still alive in spirit. And that spirit is everlasting and although we cannot see him, he’s still with us. The moment he described my cousin, I imagined the translucent ghost of Christmas past from a TV version of Christmas Carol.
“Do you think Freddy Kruger could beat a ghost?” I said to my older brother.
“I don’t know,” my brother said.
“Cause Freddy’s got claws,” I said.
“You’re dumb,” he said. “Nothing can beat a ghost.”
I looked back out the window and noticed that it was a beautiful day. When I got home, I would go outside and play with Mitch. Mitch was fun, and he would let me lead. We’d race and play with our toys, and I’d give him the soldier that was scarping my thigh, and I’d tell him that I don’t think I like funerals.
It was a beautiful day. No clouds were in sight, and I could see a faint moon above, immersed in blue sky. A couple of sparrow streaked across it. A gust of air from my father’s window blew into my face. The sun touched everything. And there was plenty of time before dark.
by Marc Alexander Valle ©2019
There’s a time in my life that I cannot write about. There’s no story there that would be of interest to my audience. I even get bored, thinking about it. From my teens to my very early 30s, I neither acted upon nor reacted to the world.
I did my thing. I wrote in various mediums, I went to karaoke twice a week, I read my work at open mics, I had my artwork in a gallery, I went back to school and earned my degree, I experimented in photography, and I worked various low-paying jobs with colorful people. But for the most part it was my lost years. I took no risks and barely ventured out of my comfort zone. I hardly dared to ask out females, fearing what they might have thought of me.
Is time ever really lost? Does the brain collect and process data and turn it into wisdom no matter the circumstance? And do movies, books, and music count as life experience?
I got into a shoving match in second grade, and it’s one of my sweetest moments. Some kid bullied my best friend on the playground. He was high up on himself, because all the girls followed him around during recess. I cursed at him and pushed him to the ground. All the girls came after me and yelled at me. The bully stood back up and cried. It felt good.
The world acted, I reacted, and in turn I existed. Beginning, middle and end.
We grade our lives on curves and our view of ourselves is rich with self-talk rebuttals.
I see no good in those years except that it makes my story different.
To excavate our lives for a happy ending can be a brutal endeavor, but a necessary one if the left foot is to move in front of the right and the right foot is to move in front of the left. I still can’t write a lick about that era.
My flash fiction story, The 500th Block of Vincent Child, has been published in Door = Jar literary magazine. If you’d like to buy a copy of the Spring 2019 issue, follow this link to Amazon:
by Marc Alexander Valle
Nice, quiet, smart.
People have told me this all my life. I don’t know how I feel about those words anymore. I used to hate them, but I think I’m making peace with the fact that I’ll never really get to shake them off.
Nice, quiet, smart. A combination that makes me a rare bird in this world.
Why do we hate being different when we’re younger?
Why do we need so much of the three A’s–acceptance, approval, admiration?
Why does it take so long to get to yourself when you have to live with yourself every day anyway?
The rare bird has few avian friends, but people love him and put him on stamps.
Now I just tried to make a metaphor where birds represent people, but I couldn’t figure what actual people represent in that particular metaphor. I cringed at every possibility, thinking of what readers would think of my writing. So I guess I’m not that rare a bird that embraces its uniqueness yet. I don’t know if we ever really get there in mid-life.
But wouldn’t that be cool to be on a stamp?